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America’s season of discontent

Something unusual is happening in America, self-styled “land of the free and home of the brave”.

In the aftermath of last Tuesday’s presidential election that saw controversial political outsider and anti-establishment Republican candidate Donald J. Trump win the keys to the White House, America has become a seething cauldron of disaffection and protests.

Many Americans are unhappy with Trump’s win and they are making that known in no uncertain terms. Shouting “Not my president” among other slogans, thousands have taken to the streets of major cities across the country in largely peaceful demonstrations.

It’s the fallout from a bitter and divisive campaign waged by the New York real estate magnate and reality TV star over the past several months in which he attacked immigrants, blacks, Muslims, members of the Lesbian Bisexual Gay and Transgender (LBGT) community and had some denigrating things to say about women.

The protesters, who say Trump represents a threat to their civil and human rights, are also peeved that certain racist and hate groups, such as the white supremacists, were closely aligned to the campaign. Such elements clearly feel emboldened by the result, as evident in a slogan painted on a wall that read “Make America white again” with a swastika, the Nazi symbol, next to it.

“We’re horrified the country has elected an incredibly unqualified, misogynist, racist on a platform that was just totally hateful,” said a retired female banker from New York who carried a placard outside the Trump Tower in New York which read: “No Fascism in America”.

What has also peeved protesters is that Trump won by securing a majority of votes in the Electoral College which ultimately decides who will be president, even though his Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton, who was ahead in most public opinion polls up to election day, won more votes.

In a clearly close contest, 60.8 million Americans or 47.8 per cent voted for Clinton compared with 60.3 million or 47.3 per cent for Trump. Electoral reform involving abolition of the Electoral College, where some states have more votes than others, is a key demand of some protesters.

It is an interesting point because America considers itself a beacon of democracy but has a political system where its highest official – the president – is not determined by the expressed will of a majority but by an Electoral College where, as we have seen in this latest election, the will of a minority can outweigh the will of the majority. Though enshrined in law it is a contradiction and an affront to the true essence of democracy.

Never before, at least in recent memory, has America witnessed a presidential election such as this nor has there been such open defiance of the result. However we look at the situation, the United States is at a turning point or about to undergo a paradigm shift in its politics.

Characteristic of the bombastic style which America and the world witnessed during the campaign, Trump’s initial reaction to the protests was dismissive. He denounced participants, some calling for love, respect and a new president-elect, as “professional protesters, incited by the media”. However, he subsequently changed tune in a Twitter tweet, lauding their “passion for our great country”. “We will all come together and be proud!” he added.

Can the last statement be interpreted as his holding out an olive branch and signaling a readiness to engage in dialogue aimed at achieving some kind of rapprochement? Given the worrying division in the country, he has little choice. Otherwise, his term in office will be just as turbulent as his campaign. Rulers in democracies govern with the consent and cooperation of the people.

What is happening in America should naturally be of concern to Barbados, the Caribbean and the rest of the world. Not only is America home to immigrant communities from Barbados and just about every other country, its policies, being the leading world power, are felt far and wide. These are obviously anxious times for predominantly black Barbados and Caribbean nationals who have made America their home and would have preferred a Clinton presidency, given their historical support for the Democratic Party. Their concerns are our concerns.

Trump assumes office next January 20. Meanwhile, the world will be anxiously analyzing his every word and action to determine whether the man seen on the campaign trail will be the same man when he sits in the Oval Office. At least, what is reassuring about the American political system is the many checks and balances which effectively hinder abuse of power.

Meantime, we pray and hope for the continued peace and prosperity of America.

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